Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Tin Hau Temple, Yau Ma Tei

After our lunch at Tin Lung Heen at the Ritz-Carlton in West Kowloon, I thought I would have a little walk around Kowloon area, in particularly Yau Ma Tei, (not Nathan Rd where I've walked many times). I start the walk with Tin Hau Temple in Yau Ma Tei.

Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon, Hong Kong


For those who're interested in Chinese mythology, especially Taoism, or just have a look at the exotic and the bewildering Chinese religious iconography, visits to temple is a fun and free way to learn it. Outside weekends and religious festivals, they're quiet contemplative place that are oases of the hustle and bustle of busy Kowloon.

As I mentioned in my travel log about my visit to Tin Hau Temple in Aberdeen that because HK was - and in a few remaining pockets that still is  - a fishing village, this leads to the widespread worship of Tin Hau (or Empress of Heaven), which is prayed to by fishermen for her protection from the peril of the sea (for this job description, she's sometimes also known as Goddess of the Sea, or Goddess of Seafarers). And so we can expect there exist a number of Tin Hau temples in HK.

Tin Hau Temple, Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon, Hong Kong
The paifang (or gateway) that marks the entrance to the park that locates in front of Tin Hau Temple

This temple is dated as far back as 1800.

For many tourists, even if they don't know about Tin Hau Temple, they would've probably heard of Temple Street. It's Tin Hau Temple that gives rise to the name of that street, which runs off the Temple's ground (see above map). With Tin Hau being the fishermen's protector, once upon a time not so long ago, the temple was adjacent to the water, but widespread land reclamation in HK has made this temple landlocked as it is today.

Tin Hau Temple, Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon, Hong Kong


Roof, Tin Hau Temple, Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Decoration on top of the temple's roof
(Click to enlarge)

As mentioned before, the top of the roof of a Taoist temple is richly decorated by a pair of dragons reaching for the purple pearl. Additionally, a carp appears to leap up to reach for the same pearl. Fish symbolises abundance in Chinese culture. For the fishing community, the fish is also their livelihood, and so adds an extra dimension to the symbolism. Typically there's also sculptural scenes from traditional Chinese operas.


Because Kowloon is more densely populated than Aberdeen, you can expect that this Tin Hau Temple is larger than the Aberdeen counterpart. Naturally, it's more packed with religious icons.

Tin Hau Effigy, Tin Hau Temple, Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon, Hong Kong
The temple's namesake goddess. She's draped in a silky embroidered robe with feminine motif of lotus and pearl necklaces.
Quite different from the more masculine Tin Hau's counterpart in Aberdeen.

"With the Wind Ears" and "Keeper of the Book", Tin Hau Temple, Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon, Hong Kong
"With the Wind Ears" and "Keeper of the Book"
"Thousand Miles Eye" and "Keeper of the Golden Seal", Tin Hau Temple, Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon, Hong Kong
"Thousand Miles Eye" and "Keeper of the Golden Seal"

If you visit or read my post on Tin Hau Temple in Aberdeen, you would have met our good monster duo "Thousand Miles Eye" and "With the Wind Ears". They're holding different weapons in the 2 Tin Hau temples, but they're unmistakably the same pair of good old friendly monsters with fearsome faces and their distinct features of eye and ears that set them apart. You should read my article on Tin Hau Temple in Aberdeen for more info on this dynamic duo.

In addition to this pair of monsters is another pair of officials (in Ming dynasty fashion) standing next to them. They're the Keepers of important things: "The keeper of the Book", and "The Keeper of the Golden Seal" . Most people call the 1st bloke the Book Keeper. I want to avoid that he could be unintentionally mistaken for people working in a professional related to accountancy. The Keeper of the Book doesn't work with numbers at all (well, let's say numeracy isn't an important prerequisite for this job), he works with words, or names. Having said that, there's a goddess actually called the Keeper of the Book. Ok, we can't win.

As for the seal, it's always considered a symbol of power - in fact, the embodiment - of the Emperor, or in this case, Empress. It's not unlike the sceptre or orb that some European monarchs holding in their majestic poses (in statues or portraits).

Unlike the sceptre or orb, the seal has a practical use other than a symbol. All imperial documents would have been stamped with this seal to seal its authenticity of authority. On 2nd thought, the spectre makes a handy back-scratcher while the orb makes excellent door stopper. I stand corrected.


Atrium, Tin Hau Temple, Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Atrium of the main temple hall

Incense coils, Tin Hau Temple, Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Incense or joss coils

As usual, there's a plethora of Taoist deities accompanied the main deity of Tin Hau.

Guan Di, Guan Gong, Lord Guan, Tin Hau Temple, Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon, Hong Kong
This side altar is most likely a altar for Guan Gong (關公) or Lord Guan - the deified General Guan Yu.
But he also shares the altar with a number of other deities.
Well, HK is very crowded, and so are its metro, trams, altars or heaven. As below, so above.

Tin Hau Temple, Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon, Hong Kong
An European family (Sounds like Dutch, I'm probably wrong) offering some incense burning.

As usual, there aren't just many altars within a temple halls, except for the smallest of temples, there're also several temple halls within a temple complex.

Tin Hau Temple, Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Oil lamp for your convenience for burning joss sticks. No need to BYO matches or lighter.

Incense coils, Tin Hau Temple, Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon, Hong Kong


Shadows cast by incense coils, Tin Hau Temple, Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Shadows of incense/joss coils cast on the ground

Bai Wuchang, Tin Hau Temple, Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Bai Wuchang (白無常)

At a little corner on the ground is a small altar with several figurines of various deities. This guy with a tall hat and his tongue hanging out isn't a band member of Kiss. His tongue is far longer. He's Bai Wuchang, meaning White Impermanence. He's a member of a pair called Heibai Wuchang (黑白無常), or Black-White Impermanence.

Yin Yang symbol of Taoism of Duality
Yin-Yang symbol that captures the essence of Taoism of Duality.
Taoists believe all forms come from the
dynamic (indicated by wavy line) alternations of 2 polar opposite forms.

Yes, as you have noticed by now, there're a lot of pairing of deities. Taoism loves duality (in this case, black and white). But they aren't really Taoist deities, but rather Chinese folk legend. But Taoism, folk legends, Buddhism, etc, are all blended into a harmonious whole that made up the Chinese religion.

They're working in Hell, and reporting to the better known Ox-Head and Horse-Face (another duo). You'll meet them in one of the temple within Tin Hau temple.

There're lots of other deities in this main temple alone. I won't go through all them. Chinese mythology is "deities mountain, deities sea" (神山神海). Have fun figuring it out yourself.

Next to the main temple in Tin Hau Temple is the City God Temple (城隍廟 Chenghuangmiao in Mandarin). Foreigners who have been to Shanghai would've probably heard of this name. Forget about that. There's nothing like it except in name only.

City God Temple, Tin Hau Temple, Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Entrance of City God Temple.

The wooden couplet hanging on either side of the door warn visitors that this is the gateway into a Chinese netherworld. Or more correctly, a place for judgement of your worldly sins. The couplet basically says (my humble translation),
"The legal punishment of this world may have been spared.
The moral dragnet of the underworld can't be escaped."


Incense Coils, Tin Hau Temple, Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon, Hong Kong


Enter at your own peril...let's do it. And so I stepped in.


King Yama, Tin Hau Temple, Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Altar showing King Yama (閻羅王) in the middle, and various other judges on both sides of him

King Yama, sometimes called Judge of the Dead, King of the Law (of Karma). When sinners descend to Hell, they will be judged by various judges.

Let's have a closer look at them.

Horse Face and Ox Head, Tin Hau Temple, Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Right side of the altar

Our partner-in-Hell Hei Wuchang is standing at the extreme right with his long dangling tongue. His bosses Horse-Face and Ox-Head are on the left. A sinner is being shackled, and its leash being held by Ox-Head. He's waiting to be judged.


BaiWuchang and Judges, Tin Hau Temple, Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon, Hong Kong
On the extreme left of the altar is Bai Wuchang

"Wuchang" is translated as "Impermanence" here. In everyday usage, this word has the implication of some unexpected event, especially death. The 2 Wuchangs embody the spirit of impermanence, which is a central idea to both Taoism and Buddhism. And they're the foot soldiers of Hell, which is the final destiny and destination for all. The ultimate expression of impermanence of human existence.

To find out more about Chinese Hell, you can read my visit to the Ten Courts of Hell in Haw Par Villa in Singapore for one hell of a good time. Better still, visit there in person.


To cheer yourself up and to pray for less suffering of any kind, we can go to Guanyin Temple, which locates 2 doors from Tin Hau altar. Guanyin is arguably more popular than Tin Hau. So it's not a surprise to find her here. She's everywhere in both sense of the word.

Guanyin Temple in Tin Hau Temple, Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Guanyin Temple in Tin Hau Temple, Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Guanyin Temple


Incense coils, Tin Hau Temple, Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon, Hong Kong

Foreigners asking for instruction for offering to Guanyin


In one of the side halls in the temple, there's a worship of rocks, which presents the animism aspect of the Chinese religion. Standing here looking at this scene, one can very easily appreciate how the ancients moved by its mystical , ethereal otherworldly quality produced by smoke and sunbeams. For a moment, you're transported to a remote mountainous area far removed from the ultra-modernity of HK.


Many things to look at and study. One of the most interesting and colourful aspect of Chinese culture. Can be quite fascinating if you give it a chance to understand it. It's anything but boring.



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